All About Jazz JANUARY 28, 2009 - by Henry Smith


Coinciding with his first tour of the States in over twenty years, trumpet player and self-described Fourth World musician Jon Hassell returns to ECM for his first release on the label since Power Spot (1985). With Last Night The Moon Came Dropping Its Clothes In The Street, a title taken from a thirteenth century poem, Hassell continues his distinctive musical pursuits in the form of "a continuous piece, almost symphonic, with a cinematic construction."

This approach is perfect for Hassell, whose slowly developing sound worlds are best when given time to fully expand. The cinematic stance spoken of is a further display of Hassell's working methods; even before his collaborations with Brian Eno on Fourth World Volume 1: Possible Musics (EG, 1980) and Fourth World Volume 2: Dream Theory In Malaya (EG, 1981), Hassell had been combining musical elements from around the globe in a montage-like structure. Further, in Hassell's words, "the music presented here is a montage of the last years of concerts and the changing cast of the group I call Maarifa Street... who have contributed their personalities the way an actor does to a film."

The album opens with Aurora, whose drifting seas of sampled loops are overlaid with rich acoustic splashes that ebb about in warm sonic waters. Hassell's trumpet retains the piece's lofty nature as his horn slips zephyr-like across the work. Time And Place grounds the previous piece a bit as Peter Freeman's bass provides a sparse funk groove. Kheir-Eddine M'Kachiche's violin softly dribbles about beneath Hassell's expansive interjections.

Abu Gil represents the longest work on the date, taking its thirteen minutes to pursue minimal explorations of subtly Arabic themes, interspersed by Freeman's quietly intense bass pulse. M'Kachiche again sprawls violin tones about, while Eivind Aarset's guitar moves lightly across the whole. Helge Norbakken's subtle but distinctive drum work gives an internal momentum without driving the piece outright, before the work moves toward more overtly grooving terrain.

Last Night The Moon Came brings to mind Hassell's ambient explorations with Eno, as Rick Cox and Thomas Newman's strings create a softly etched chordal framework for the group to lay themselves across. The result is a swaying piece whose moments are wrought with intensity and fragile beauty.

Interspersed toward the middle of the album are Clairvoyance and Scintilla, both brief explorations that serve as interludes to the second half of the album. Courtrais, which divides the two, displays a noir-like attitude with skittering sampled rhythms and a near-droning moody atmosphere. If this is act two it serves its role well, creating a dark moment of tension for the third act to resolve.

Northline again features the steady bass work of Freeman, as Jan Bang's sampling continues to treat the acoustics with great respect while enriching the sonic environment. The slow and steady Blue Period the most overtly relaxed work on the disc, stretches out softly from its core. Steve Shehan's percussion lulls about as Aarset's guitar loop is a subtle but continued presence.

The closing Light On Water begins where the Blue Period left off. When Freeman's groove sets itself up beneath Norbakken's treated drums though, a dub-like structure emerges that careens along, closing the disc in a satisfying and eased manner.

As Hassell continues his Fourth World explorations, he continues to mesh approaches while remaining distinct in his sound. This album represents yet another success in his impressive discography. Co-producer Manfred Eicher, whose instantly recognizable sound fits wonderfully into Hassell's aesthetic, is yet another bonus. If this group is any indication, Hassell's 2009 tour should prove a memorable one.

TRACKS Aurora / Time And Place / Abu Gil / Last Night The Moon Came / Clairvoyance / Courtrais / Scintilla / Northline / Blue Period / Light On Water.

PERSONNEL Jon Hassell: trumpet (1-4, 6, 8-10), keyboard (3, 6) / Peter Freeman: bass (1-6, 8-10), percussion (2), guitar (7), samples (9) / Jan Bang: live sampling / Rick Cox: guitar (1, 2, 4, 7, 9), strings (4) / Jamie Muhoberac: keyboard (1, 2, 4, 9), drums (4, 9) / Kheir Eddine M'Kacich: violin (2-5, 7) / Pete Lockett: drums (2) / Eivind Aarset: guitar (3, 8-10) / Helge Norbakken: drums (3, 8, 10) / Thomas Newman: strings (4) / Dino J. A. Deane: live sampling (6, 7) / Steve Shehan: percussion (6, 9).